It is fair to say that the UK’s economic future as a trading nation post-Brexit will depend heavily on the efficiency of its ports, road haulage and rail freight transport, but the big question is whether the existing freight infrastructure is in a fit state to cope.
According to the Road Haulage Association 80% of all goods transported by land in Gt Britain are moved directly by road and the remainder will often need road haulage to complete the journey.
Road Haulage transports 98% of food and agricultural products and 98% of all consumer products and machinery and the industry employs 2.54 million people. It is the UK’s fifth largest employer and contributes £124 Billion in GVA (Gross Added Value) to the economy.
While the ports are investing heavily in their processes’ efficiency to attract trade, they are not responsible for the road and rail network on which they need to rely to move goods onwards.
A recent BPA (British Ports Association) report, Port Futures, highlighted some of the issues. These included a cumbersome planning process and lack of Government commitment to invest in improvements.
The RHA, too, has criticised the state of UK roads, 20% of which, it says, are five years away from being unusable and the Asphalt Industry Alliance has highlighted a sharp increase in pothole-related breakdowns resulting in expensive damage and delays to HGVs and citing Government neglect.
The FHA (Freight Haulage Association) points out that funding for rail improvement has been falling and added its voice to calls for infrastructure improvement.
Plainly the verdict of those within the freight transport industry is “could do better”.
Investigations on freight infrastructure – but will meaningful action follow?
In November last year the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission was tasked with carrying out an investigation into the issues facing the freight industry and the actions needed to solve them.
Led by Lord Adonis it is tasked with exploring options to improve the infrastructure, as well as looking at ways to use new technology to improve freight movement, covering congestion, capacity and carbon reduction.
It will produce an interim report in the Autumn.
The FHA is also holding a one-day conference in London on June 20 called Keep Britain Trading.
Topics will include the UK’s readiness for Brexit, specific issues affecting critical supply chains, border readiness at the ports and the vexed issue of managing Customs arrangements.
Will any significant action towards a new integrated national freight infrastructure result or will the outcome be yet more hot air?